The marathon is over. Now, it's time for the sprint.
The Kansas City Star
The match-ups are set, with the play-in games scheduled to kick things off. The Colorado Rapids travel to face the Seattle Sounders (Wednesday, 9:30 p.m. on MLS Live) and the Montreal Impact head down to face the Houston Dynamo (Thursday, 7 p.m. on TSN and MLS Live).
The weekend brings the conference semifinals. Sporting Kansas City will start on the road against the New England Revolution (Saturday, 7 p.m.* locally on KSMO-TV and nationally on NBC Sports Network). Later that night, the Portland Timbers will face the winner of Colorado-Seattle (Saturday, 9 p.m. on NBC Sports Network).
*The field at Gillette Stadium should be interesting. There's a college football game on Saturday at noon (UMass vs. Northern Illinois) and an NFL game on Sunday (Patriots vs. Steelers). Football lines are a guarantee.
The Supporters' Shield winning New York Red Bulls will face the winner of Houston-Montreal (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. on NBC) and Real Salt Lake takes on the Los Angeles Galaxy (Sunday, 8 p.m. on ESPN).
The semifinals will be decided by two-game aggregate series. The lower-seeded team hosts the first leg. If the aggregate series is tied after 180 minutes, two 15-minute extra periods will be play in their entirety before heading to penalty kicks. Unlike the rules in other knockout tournaments, away goals are not weighted.
The return legs will take place on Nov. 6 or 7. The exact dates and kickoff times have yet to be determined.
Tight until the end
How close was the MLS regular season? The last qualifier (Montreal, 49 points) finished just 10 points behind the Supporters' Shield winners (New York, 59 points).
The top four teams? New York (59), Sporting Kansas City (58), Portland Timbers (57) and Real Salt Lake (56). Three points. Thats all.
Cue every Sporting Kansas City fan remembering with regret this moment:
But the past is the past. There's no changing what happened, only moving forward.
So, who's the favorite going into the playoffs? Hard to tell.
Of course the Red Bulls won the Supporters' Shield and haven't lost in its last six matches. But Portland (also undefeated in its last six) is on good form too. Both teams scored five goals on the weekend too.
But Kansas City and Salt Lake are both quality teams who were right there until the end of the Supporters' Shield race. No one really wants to face Bruce Arena and the Los Angeles Galaxy (winners of the last two MLS Cups) in any two-leg match. Same probably goes for Dominic Kinnear and the Dynamo. And Colorado and New England have been clicking on offense.
Only Montreal and Seattle slip into the playoffs on poor form, but with the players on the Sounders roster, it's hard to count them out entirely.
It's really about as wide open as it could possibly be.
About New England
On the season, Kansas City went 1-0-1 against the Revs a 0-0 draw in Foxboro in March and a 3-0 win in Kansas City in August.
That last game, like many during the last three years between these two teams, featured goals, red cards and scrums.
Here's a visual recap:
The last seven times these two have played featured 14 goals and 5 red cards (only one against KC). KC is 3-1-3 in those seven games. Not surprisingly, that lone loss was the one game KC drew a red card.
However, the Revs aren't quite the same team as the one from August. While the defense hasn't been as stalwart (started the year tough to be beat, but have only three clean sheets since Aug. 11), the offense has been clicking (22 goals in 11 games).
It's almost as if the two teams switched personalities. Kansas City over the last six games turned into a fairly difficult-to-watch team offensively but a stellar defensive team. (Over the last six MLS games, KC allowed just three goals, but only scored six.)
The Revolution, however, are one of the hottest teams headed into the playoffs: Unbeaten in the last six, only two losses since falling 3-0 to Kansas City on Aug. 11.
And they've got Juan Agudelo and Lee Nguyen doing things like this:
Could be a very interesting chess match on Saturday.